Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Colombiana

Looking at the recent work of Colombiana star Zoe Saldana (Star Trek, Avatar, and The Losers), coupled with the previous directorial efforts from Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3 and second unit work on Hitman), it’s no surprise that the focus of the pair’s latest film, Colombiana, is visceral, in your face, action.

Relying on one of the most irritating film trailers in recent memory, “Never forget where you came from,” it’s easy to dismiss Colombiana as just another style-over-substance action flick – rooted in a familiar international revenge plot line. That said, is the actual film just as formulaic and bizarre as the trailers seem to indicate – or does Colombiana actually offer an exciting, and hard-hitting, action experience at the theater?

Unfortunately, there are few films that exemplify the style-over-substance approach more than Colombiana.

As mentioned, it’s not exactly surprising that a film from Olivier Megaton prioritizes action over character development, but the larger problem with Colombiana is that it strives for something deeper than just a Transporter-like actioner starring Zoe Saldana – and most of the time, falls completely flat in both the emotion and action categories.

Despite what should be a “shocking” opening set-piece, the basic premise of Colombiana is a root cause of the film’s inability to get any real traction. The storyline offers very few original ideas. With an international backdrop, mobsters, and political intrigue, the plot points should be especially predictable to regular filmgoers as well as anyone familiar with screenwriter Luc Besson (Taken): As a young child, Cataleya Restrepo (Zoe Saldana) witnesses the murder of her parents in Bogota after her father attempts to cut ties with a Colombian mob boss. Cataleya then makes her way to America (ultimately Chicago), where she reunites with her Uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis). Inspired by Xena: Warrior Princess comics, Cataleya tells Emilio that she wants to be a killer and over the course of 15 years she trains, and works, as a talented assassin. Her uncle arranges contract hits, mostly high-profile criminals (a ponzi scheme head, drug dealers, etc), and Cataleya takes down the targets – all while hunting the people responsible for the murder of her parents. After the news media picks-up on the string of high-profile contract hits (Cataleya marks each kill with an image of the Colombian “Cataleya” Orchid), she’s set on a reckless collision course, littered with dead bodies, to kill the crew that murdered her family.

Young Cataleya Restrepo in 'Colombiana'

Instead of producing a high-octane, but mostly brainless action film, Colombiana is an uneven and melodramatic flick – as a result, the over-the-top actions of Cataleya don’t just fail to deliver enjoyable on-screen pandemonium, they are completely at odds with the tone of the film and the psychology of the main character. It’s hard to blame Zoe Saldana for the film’s inability to get genuine emotional traction – the actress, despite a few scenes that are overly sentimental, manages to successfully showcase the different shades of Cataleya Restrepo: a complicated personal life, aching childhood scars, as well as a ruthless physicality (one particularly hard-hitting scene could almost rival MMA fighter, Gina Carano’s performance in Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming film Haywire).

That said, a convoluted development of Cataleya’s character on the page undercuts Saldana’s performance – and the resulting on-screen character isn’t particularly likable or empathetic. Scene-to-scene Saldana is enjoyable to watch with what could have been an interesting character psychology, butwhen viewed as a 110 minute film, Cataleya’s actions (as well as assassin work) stretch suspension of disbelief even in the best scenes and flat-out contradict each other in the worst ones. By the end of the film, it’s clear that Megaton and Co. almost always choose the most roundabout way for Cataleya to kill her marks – which undermines the character’s efficiency as an assassin, in favor of what the filmmakers must have felt would be memorable on-screen imagery (a scene involving a shark tank is especially absurd).

Prioritizing over-the-top imagery in favor of more meaningful attempts at character development works in a more straightforward film (such as the Transporter movies) – but in Colombiana, these stylized set-pieces constantly disrupt meaningful moments. For example,  in order to prove the importance of education to young Cataleya, Emilio fires-off several gunshots outside of an elementary school in front of a crowd during broad daylight (one bullet even hits a passing car and causes the vehicle to crash into a fire hydrant), only to wax poetics with his niece about being a “smart” killer – before slipping on his fedora and walking down the street unnoticed as Chicago police swarm the area. As a result, the on-screen absurdity contradicts the tone of an attempted emotional moment – where potentially compelling characters are undermined by their “shock value” actions.

Zoe Saldana as Cataleya in 'Colombiana'

Most of the supporting cast is adequate but none of the performers are given a whole lot to work with – as nearly every character serves a mechanical “function” but not really a compelling “role” in the film: Michael Vartan is a clueless love interest, Callum Blue is a shady CIA agent, Lennie James is a by-the-books FBI profiler, and Jordi Mollà is a ruthless second-in-command mobster. There’s very little “resolution” to any of these side-character arcs – and virtually none of them offer anything but story points or obstacles for Cataleya to overcome.

Some moviegoers, who are less interested in what Megaton is trying to do with character and more interested in watching Saldana drive armored cars through brick walls, will undoubtedly dismiss criticism of the overarching story in favor of praising the minute to minute action in the film. However, as a result of all the time spent trying to tell a dramatic character story, the action set-pieces aren’t nearly as exciting as moviegoers (who were intrigued by the film’s trailer) might be expecting. Admittedly, there are a few compelling sequences (the fallout from the drunk-driving scene featured in the trailer is definitely one) but overall, there are very few new ideas, and even fewer surprises in Colombiana.

Colombiana is a hard movie to recommend since it’s caught somewhere in the middle of an engaging character drama and a brainless action extravaganza. As a result, the movie is stuck in a gray area where it’ll be too melodramatic for most action lovers and too absurd for anyone looking for compelling character drama.

If you’re still on the fence about Colombiana, check out the trailer below (and remember: Never forget where you came from):

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Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick – and let us know what you thought of the film below.

Colombiana is now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5

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